April 4, 2024

Coming Out: Not An Event But A Process

By Alex Stewart
Identity Development
Mental Health & Wellbeing

The term “coming out” is a common phrase used in the LGTBQIA+ community in sharing their sexuality and identity with those in their lives. But, coming out isn’t just the instance of sharing that information, it starts long before a person is ready for that step. The process of coming out can vary in length and involves multiple steps such as self-discovery, building courage, self-acceptance, and finding the safety and words to communicate. Let’s review the possible highs and lows of the coming out journey, including freedom, self-love, communication difficulties, and lack of acceptance.

Disclaimer: It’s important to remember that everyone’s process and what’s best for them is different. There is no one right way to do anything and this applies to coming out. This process is so individualized and can be incredibly nuanced. This is simply one route a person can take and these “steps” or “legs” do not have to be done in a certain order to be “correct”.

Discovery & Acceptance

The process of coming out can be compared to a race with various legs, steps, or activities. Communication is often easier when we have understanding and context to explain what we are feeling or experiencing. This is why self-discovery (and in some but not all cases, self-acceptance) is framed as the first step: Understanding on some level one’s sexual orientation or gender identity and having affirming language to describe. This process can vary in length as it requires introspection and reflection in order to identify and embrace the authentic version of self. In order to do this work, it’s important to find safe, affirming spaces such as an LGBTQIA+ community organization, a therapist, or group therapy. In this space, a person is allowed to explore feelings, thoughts, and all the complexities that come with defining self.

Coping with Fears & Unease

The most common fear that arises when navigating the coming out journey is the fear of how others will perceive or think of you. The worry of rejection and the desire to be accepted is completely normal and a human experience no matter the topic. It is important to take time during the coming out process to acknowledge, explore, and validate these fears. Sharing your thoughts and feelings about these fears whether that be in group support, therapy, or within close interpersonal relationships can help work through and overcome them.

The Time, the Place, & The Communication

The time and place that a person decides to come out to one or more people is a decision that can take lots of thinking and deliberation. For some, a curated moment with a written or rehearsed speech feels best while in other cases, someone can simply stumble into it organically. For others, it can be some sort of combination of those, or something completely different such as a social media post or social gathering. Regardless of how someone decides to communicate, it is pivotal for them to feel comfortable and safe in sharing. This is not only for a smooth delivery, but to be prepared for the possible reactions, whether they be strong or underwhelming, positive or negative.

Communicating effectively is another key component of coming out. This is where the self-discovery piece is vital, so that a person has language that feels authentic to them for clear communication. This is not only for the understanding of the identity to the recipient, but so they can better understand their thoughts and feelings, as well as use the correct language when having further conversations around the topic.

Handling Rejection

Depending on a person’s story, there may come a time where they are not accepted when sharing their sexual or gender identity with someone. It is important to keep in mind that no matter how many times you share this information, it is vulnerable and sacred. When met with rejection, no matter where you are in your journey, you are worthy of love and support from those in your life who are accepting, including yourself. Remember: Rejection just does not diminish your worthiness or validity as a human with wants and needs.

Keep in the forefront of your mind that everyone’s journey of understanding their sexual or gender identity is unique and will have its own barriers, challenges, and joys. The process of coming out is intimate and personal as it requires a person to confront and define their thoughts, feelings, fears, and the perceptions of others. This journey can be taxing and scary at times, but is all about self exploration and acceptance. Connecting with those who are affirming and supportive is one of the most pivotal pieces of self-exploration, along with self-compassion.

Struggling to define, accept or communicate your identity? Reach out to our office to get connected with someone and stop sifting through your thoughts alone.

Written By

Alex Stewart

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